DES MOINES, Iowa — Three times was the charm for Alabama-Huntsville Sunday afternoon as the Chargers won the CHA championship with a thrilling 5-4 overtime victory over Robert Morris.
But the celebration was delayed a couple minutes after the officials reviewed David Nimmo’s shorthanded game-winner.
After Aaron Clarke just missed the net on a RMU power play, the puck came to the UAH blue line. Doug Conley tripped going for the puck and Nimmo scooped it up and went in on a two-on-one with Josh Murray on Colonials’ goalie Christian Boucher.
Nimmo backhanded the puck past Boucher, who got his glove on it, and then crashed into Boucher after the puck crossed the goal line, hence the review.
“Without question the biggest goal I’ve ever scored,” said Nimmo, who also scored Huntsville’s second goal and was named tournament MVP. “I’ve never won a championship before — no conference or league title or anything — so it was good to get this one and to score the OT winner.”
Grant Selinger had been called for hooking at 11:56 and RMU had its 13th power play of the game. The Colonials were 3-for-13 with the man-advantage; UAH went 3-for-6.
“Calling this a heartbreaker is an understatement,” RMU head coach Derek Schooley said. “I give Huntsville credit. They were down, but were resilient and came back. We had the 4-0 lead, but they actually outplayed us. We just capitalized on our opportunities.
“I don’t know how you can’t use this game as motivation for next season. This will sting for a long time; there’s no game next Friday.”
The game was the third overtime contest in CHA title game history. In 2004, Niagara downed Bemidji State and two years earlier, Wayne State beat Alabama-Huntsville.
UAH (13-19-3) rallied to come from behind and win Friday night and Saturday afternoon, but after spotting the Colonials (14-19-2) a 4-0 first-period advantage Sunday, that deficit became like the ones in the prior two games — erased.
“We’ve come back a lot of times this year and we know we have the ability to come back,” said UAH head coach Doug Ross, who is retiring after this season. “It’s good to be able to go out like this. I told the team after the first period that we just needed to chip away and get a couple goals. When we got the third one at the end of the second, that was huge. We knew if we tied it, we had a chance as long as we kept them out of our end.”
For UAH, it’s the team’s first CHA title after being in the championship game five times in the eight years of the league’s existence. The Chargers are also the first fifth-seeded team to hoist the McLeod Cup.
RMU tied a school record with four goals in the first period. Those would be the only goals it would score.
Ryan Cruthers picked up where he left off Saturday when he gave RMU a 1-0 lead at 6:35 of the first period on a power play. Behind the UAH net, Aaron Clarke fed Sean Berkstresser at the faceoff dot and Berkstresser went cross-crease to Cruthers, who was at the back door and banged the puck past UAH goalie Marc Narduzzi.
Dave Cowan then notched his first collegiate goal at 9:02 on a delayed penalty to Huntsville, which was already down a man. Cowan’s slapshot went top-shelf on Narduzzi from the slot after UAH left Cowan wide open.
Three minutes later, Berkstresser made it 3-0 at 12:09. Jason Towsley picked off a Shaun Arvai pass up the middle, dished off to Conley and Conley’s shot went off Berkstresser and past a screened Narduzzi.
Ross lifted Narduzzi at 12:35 for Blake MacNicol, but the Colonials kept pressing.
At 16:43, Cruthers dropped a pass for Clarke, who put a shot on net that was redirected by Chris Margott for the third power-play marker of the period.
But as it had shown in the first two games of the tournament, UAH was far from defeated.
“We found a way to claw back all weekend,” Nimmo said. “We stayed relaxed and calm and kept our composure. In the second and third, we concentrated on just getting the puck deep. We just went out and had fun.”
On a man-advantage 68 seconds into the middle period, Kevin Morrison gave the Chargers life when he put home a rebound of a Scott Kalinchuk past RMU goalie Christian Boucher.
Nimmo closed the gap at 2:57 with a five-on-three power-play goal. Arvai passed to defense partner Mike Salekin, who found Nimmo on his knees in front of the net for the goal.
Then with 20 ticks left in the period, Selinger took a pass in front of Boucher from Murray, who was behind the net and Selinger wasted no time with the slam-dunk.
Kalinchuk evened the score at 4 on a power play 5:22 into the third period with a one-time blast past Boucher that sent the game to the extra session.
Boucher made 45 saves, while MacNicol stopped 28 shots after Narduzzi made just one save on four shots.
“Going into overtime, I did think we were going to win,” said MacNicol after playing in just his sixth game with UAH after joining the team in January. “I guess I felt a little pressure personally, but you just need to block that out in a game like this. Things went right for us all weekend and I just knew we were going to win this thing.”
So does MacNicol get the nod in the regionals?
“I don’t know, I’ve only seen the kid five or six times,” Ross said. “But I told him when he came in that we needed him to stand up and make the saves for us. He’s very cool and collected.”
Ross added that playing three games in less than three full days has taken its toll, but he’ll have his team charged up and ready for the NCAA round of 16.
“We’re tired,” said Ross. “We’ll take a couple days off and then get back into our normal routine. We’re not going to change anything, except maybe coming out faster and getting an early lead.
“Maybe that’s something we need to work on a little bit.”
CHA All-Tournament Team
G Blake MacNicol, UAH
D Dave Cowan, RMU
D Mike Salekin, UAH
F Sean Berkstresser, RMU
F Chris Margott, RMU
F Kevin Morrison, UAH
MVP: David Nimmo, UAH